Polyamory, in its broadest usage, is the practice or lifestyle of being open to having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. Persons who consider themselves emotionally suited to such relationships may define themselves as polyamorous, often abbreviated to poly.
Polyamory is a neologism and a hybrid word: poly is Greek for many and amor is Latin for love. It has been independently coined by several people, including Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart whose article "A Bouquet of Lovers" (1990) is widely cited as the source of the word (but see below), and Jennifer Wesp who created the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory in 1992. However, the term has been reported in occasional use since the 1960s, and even outside polygamous cultures such relationships existed well before the name was coined; for one example dating from the 1920s, see William Moulton Marston.
The word "polyamory" does not actually appear in "A Bouquet of Lovers", referenced above. The article uses "polyamorous", but its original version introduced the term in hyphenated form, "poly-amorous". The article consistently uses "polygamy" as the counterpart to "monogamy". This indicates that at the time, the author was not yet using the word "polyamory", and did not consider "polyamorous" an established word either. There are no verifiable sources showing the word polyamory in common use until after alt.polyamory was created. The older term polyfidelity, a subset of polyamory, was coined decades earlier at Kerista.
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alt.polyamory participants collaborated on a FAQ (frequently asked questions) post that was updated periodically, and included the group's definition of "polyamory". The latest version of the FAQ on polyamory.org, dated 1997, has this definition:
- 2). What's polyamory, then?
- (Glad you asked that. ;-) ) Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.
- "The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved."
- This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude "swinging" per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves. As far as we have understood, swinging specifically does not involve "cheating," and it certainly does involve having "multiple lovers"! Moreover, we understand from speaking with a few swinging activists that many swingers are closely bonded with their various lovers, as best friends and regular partners.
- The two essential ingredients of the concept of "polyamory" are "more than one" and "loving." That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, "cheating," serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as "mate-swapping" parties.'
However, no single definition of "polyamory" has universal acceptance. It is generally agreed that polyamory involves multiple consensual, loving relationships (or openness to such), but beyond that the term is ambiguous as the word love itself. A relationship is more likely to be called "polyamorous" if it is long-term, involves some sort of commitment (e.g. a formal ceremony), and involves shared living arrangements and/or finances, but none of these criteria are necessary or definitive.
For instance, somebody who has multiple sexual partners might form strong 'loving' friendships with them, without feeling romantic love for them. Whether such a person identifies as "polyamorous", or as a swinger, or uses some other term, often depends more on their attitude towards other "polyamorists, "swingers", etc., than on the exact nature of their relationships. Different terms emphasise different aspects of the interaction, but "swinging" and "polyamory" are both broad in what they can refer to. This allows for a certain degree of overlap.
Similarly, an open relationship in which all participants are long-term friends might be considered "polyamorous" under broader usages of the word but excluded from some of the tighter usages (see further discussion below). There is enough overlap between these concepts that the expression "open relationship" is also sometimes used as a catch-all substitute when speaking to people who may not be familiar with the term "polyamory".
The terms primary (or primary relationship(s)) and secondary (or secondary relationship(s)) are often used as a means to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships in a person's life. Thus a woman with a husband and another partner might refer to the husband as her "primary". (Of course, this is in addition to any other terms a person might use, such as "lover", "casual date", "friend", "other half", and so on.) The term tertiary can refer to ongoing casual relationships, though it is much less commonly used. Some polyamorous people refer to "primary/secondary" as a style of polyamory that involves an explicit hierarchy of relationships. Another model, sometimes referred to as intimate network, may include relationships of varying significance to the people involved, but people who practice it do not explicitly label relationships primary or secondary, and hierarchies may be fluid and vague or nonexistent. The terms primary & secondary usually refer to the relationship, not the partner, but the common shorthand of referring to someone you have a secondary relationship with as "my secondary", etc., sometimes causes confusion on that point when communicating with people not familiar with polyamory.
Symbols of polyamory
Although a number of symbols have been adopted by polyamorous people, none have universal recognition. The most common symbol is the heart combined with the infinity sign, shown at the top of this article. Another symbol is an image of a parrot, since "Polly" is a common name for these birds.
Forms of polyamory
Forms of polyamory include:
- Polyfidelity, which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to specific partners in a group.
- Sub-relationships, which distinguish between "primary" and "secondary" relationships (e.g. most open marriages).
- Polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), in which one person marries several spouses (who may or may not be married to or have a romantic relationship with one another).
- Group relationships and group marriage, in which all consider themselves associated to one another, popularized to some extent by Robert A. Heinlein (in novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), by Robert Rimmer and also by the author Starhawk in her books The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) and Walking to Mercury (1997).
- Networks of interconnecting relationships, where a particular person may have relationships of varying degrees of importance with various people.
- Mono/poly relationships where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships.
- So-called "geometric" arrangements, which are described by the number of people involved and their relationship connections. Examples include "triads" and "quads", along with "V" and "N" geometries. The connecting member of a V relationship is sometimes referred to as a "hinge" or "pivot", and the partners thereby indirectly connected are referred to as the "arms". The arm partners are not as closely bonded to each other as each arm partner is to the pivot. This can be contrasted with a "triangle", in which all partners are directly connected and all are bonded to each other with comparable strength. A triad could be either a V or a triangle.
Some people in sexually exclusive relationships may still self-describe as polyamorous, if they have significant emotional ties to more than one other person. Additionally, people who self-describe as polyamorous may accept monogamous relationships with specific partners, either because this is the negotiated agreement, or because with that partner monogamy feels "right" (whereas for a different partner perhaps it would not be needed).
Open relationship denotes a relationship (usually between two people) in which participants are free to take other partners; where the couple making this agreement are married, it is an open marriage. "Open relationship" and "polyamorous" are not identical terms. Broadly, "open" usually refers to the sexual aspect of a non-closed relationship, whereas polyamory involves the extension of a relationship by allowing bonds to form (which may be sexual or otherwise) as additional long term relationships:
- Some relationships place strict restrictions on partners (e.g. polyfidelity); such relationships are polyamorous, but not open.
- Some relationships permit sex outside the primary relationship, but not love (cf swinging); such relationships are open, but not polyamorous.
- Some polyamorists do not accept the dichotomies of "in a relationship/not in a relationship" and "partners/not partners"; without these divisions, it is meaningless to class a relationship as "open" and "closed".
- Some polyamorists consider "polyamory" to be their philosophical orientation -- they believe themselves capable and desirous of multiple loves -- whereas "open relationship" is used as a logistical description: that is, it is how their polyamory is expressed or implemented. They would say of themselves, for instance, "I am polyamorous; my primary partner and I have an open relationship (with the following ground rules)..."
Several other forms of nonmonogamous (not necessarily polyamorous) relationship are listed at poly relationship.
Legal status of polyamorous relationships
Three or more people may form and share a relationship in most countries legally (subject sometimes to laws against homosexuality). But such laws do not usually permit marriage, nor do they give full legal protection to all partners equally, nor as strong protection (e.g., parental rights) as they do to married couples. They are considered no different from people who live together or date under other circumstances. Usually one couple, at most, can elect to be treated as "married".
Bigamy is the act of marrying one person whilst already being married to another, and is legally prohibited in most jurisdictions, though some permit it. Some bigamy statutes are broad enough to potentially encompass polyamorous relationships involving cohabitation, even if none of the participants claim marriage to more than one partner. For instance, under Utah Code 76-7-101, 'A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.'
Having multiple non-marital partners, even if married to one, is legal in most jurisdictions; at most it constitutes grounds for divorce if the spouse is non-consenting (or claims to be) or feels that the interest in a further partner has destabilized the marriage. There are exceptions to this; in North Carolina a spouse can sue a third party for causing "loss of affection" in or "criminal conversation" (adultery) with their spouse , and more than twenty states in the US have laws against adultery .
As described here, New Jersey's 2004 Domestic Partnership Act can be combined with marriage in order to legally connect any N-ary group of persons (imperfectly, though) using a combination of marriage and domestic partnership, provided that any of the following is true: (a) the number of males and the number of females are equal; (b) the number of males and the number of females differ by one; (c) the number of males and the number of females differ by two and both numbers are even. For example, 8 females and 6 males would work. But 8 females and 5 males would not; nor would 5 females and 3 males; nor would a single-sex community of more than two people.
The extension of laws which use a test similar to the UK test of "married or living together as married" to multiple-partner relationships (i.e. treating them as common-law marriage) to trios or larger groups is largely untested at present.
If marriage is intended, most countries provide for both a religious marriage, and a civil ceremony (sometimes combined), both of which recognize and formalize the relationship. Few countries recognize or will permit marriages with three or more partners either legally or religiously. While a recent case in the Netherlands was commonly read as demonstrating that the Netherlands permitted multiple-partner civil unions, , this belief is mistaken. The relationship in question was a samenlevingscontract or "cohabitation contract" and not a registered partnership or marriage (Dutch-language source, English-language source). The Netherlands' law concerning registered partnerships clearly states:
- A person may only be involved in one registered partnership with one other person whether of the same or of opposite sex at any one time.
- Persons who enter into a registered partnership may not at the same time be married.
When a couple split up, non-consensual non-fidelity ("cheating") is often grounds for an unfavorable divorce settlement, and non-fidelity generally could easily be seized upon as a prejudicial issue by an antagonistic partner. Married people with partners external to their marriage (or other primary relationship) might need to consider carefully the laws in their jurisdiction, to ensure that they are complied with, and consider how to ensure that the mutuality of their decision within their marriage is clear.
Values within polyamory
Unlike the general case of swinging, polyamorous relationships also involve an emotional bond, though the distinctions made between swinging and polyamory are a topic open to debate and interpretation. Many people in both the swinging and polyamory communities see both practices as part of a continuum of open intimacy and sexuality.
Also note that the values discussed here are ideals. As with any ideals, their adherents sometimes fall short of the mark - but major breaches of a polyamorous relationship's ideals are taken as seriously as such breaches would be in any other relationship.
Fidelity and loyalty
Most monogamists define fidelity as committing to only one partner (at a time), and having no other sexual or relational partners during such commitment.
The poly version of this is polyfidelity, a specific form of polyamory defined by a lasting, sexually exclusive commitment to multiple partners. But some polyamorists define fidelity as being honest and forthcoming with their partners in respect to their relational lives, and keeping to the commitments they have made in those relationships, rather than basing it on sexual exclusivity. This can be read as the same definition used in monogamy: If fidelity means honoring the agreements you have made about the relationship, then fidelity in the context of monogamy means you've agreed to be monogamous, and honor that. Others prefer to emphasise loyalty, sometimes defined as the ability to rely upon the other person's support, care, and presence.
Trust, honesty, dignity and respect
Most polyamorists emphasize respect for all partners. Withholding information—even a "Don't ask, don't tell" agreement—is often frowned upon, because it implies that partners cannot handle the truth or trust those they love to keep their commitments. A partner's partners should be accepted as part of that person's life rather than merely tolerated.
A relationship that requires deception, or where partners are not allowed to express their individual lives, is often seen as a poor model for a relationship. The trust in a polyamorous relationship is that they love (or care about) you, and will come back, and will treat you and your relationship with them honestly and appropriately, as something of value and to be respected.
As part of this, dignity is often taken as a key value in a relationship. The idea here is that each partner will support, and not undermine, the other, and (where relevant) will not use a secondary relationship in a way that deliberately harms or destabilizes the other party or other relationships.
Communication and negotiation
Because there is no "standard model" for polyamorous relationships, participants in a relationship may have differing ideas about how that relationship should work. If unaddressed, such mismatched expectations can be extremely harmful to the relationship. For this reason, many polyamorists advocate explicitly deciding the ground rules of a relationship with all concerned.
In contrast to some other forms of negotiated relationship (e.g. the prenuptial agreement) polyamorists commonly view this negotiation as an ongoing process throughout the lifetime of the relationship.
In more conventional relationships, participants can settle on a common set of expectations without having to consciously negotiate them, simply by following societal standards (a husband and wife are expected to support one another financially, for instance). Because polyamorous relationships cannot rely on societal standards as a starting point, much more within the relationship must be chosen along the way by talking and by mutual respect and understanding, rather than assumed.
Polyamorists usually take a pragmatic approach to their relationships; they accept that sometimes they and their partners will make mistakes and fail to live up to these ideals. When this happens, communication is an important channel for repairing any damage caused by such breaches.
People in conventional relationships often agree not to seek other relationships under any circumstances, as they would threaten, dilute or substitute for the primary relationship. Polyamorists believe these restrictions are in fact not for the best in their relationships, since they tend to replace trust with possessive prohibitions, and place relationships into a framework of ownership and control. This reflects cultural assumptions that restrictions are needed to stop partners "drifting", and that additional close relationships would be a serious threat or dilution of that bond.
Polyamorists tend to see their partner's partners in terms of the gain to their partner's life rather than the threat to their own. The old saying "If you love someone, set them free, if they come back they are yours, if not they never were" describes a similar type of outlook. For this reason, many polyamorists see a "possessive" view of relationships as something to be avoided. This takes a great deal of trust. (A simple test of success: would seeing one's lover find another partner be cause for happiness [compersion] or alarm?)
Although non-possessiveness is an important part of many polyamorous relationships, it is not as universal as the other values discussed above. Alternatives include arrangements in which one possessive primary relationship is combined with non-possessive secondary relationships (common in open marriages), and asymmetrical relationships in which "ownership" applies in only one direction.
Polyamory and parenting
Many polyamorists have children, either within the relationship or from a previous relationship. Like other elements of polyamory, the way in which children are integrated into the family structure varies widely. Some possibilities are:
- Parents are primarily responsible for their own children (biological, adoptive, or step-), but other members of the relationship act as an extended family, providing assistance in child-rearing.
- Adults raise children collectively, all taking equal responsibility for each child regardless of consanguinity.
- Parents are wholly responsible for their own children, with other members of the relationship relating to the children as friends of the parents.
- Children treat parents' partners as a form of step-parent.
The choice of structures is affected by timing: an adult who has been present throughout a child's life is likely to have a more parental relationship with that child than one who enters a relationship with people who already have a teenage child. (The issues involved often parallel those of step-parenting.)
The degree of logistical and emotional involvement between the members of the relationship is also important: a close-knit triad already living under one roof with shared finances is far more likely to take a collective approach to parenting than would a larger, loose-knit group with separate living arrangements.
Whether children are fully informed of the nature of their parents' relationship varies, according to the above considerations and also to whether the parents are 'out' to other adults.
Parents involved in polyamorous relationships often keep this status a secret because of the risk that their polyamory will be used by an ex-spouse or other family member as grounds to deprive them of custody of and/or access to their children, much as homosexuality has been used in the past.
In 1998, a Tennessee court granted guardianship of a child to her grandmother and step-grandfather after the child's mother April Divilbiss and partners outed themselves as polyamorous on MTV. After contesting the decision for two years, Divilbiss eventually agreed to relinquish her daughter, acknowledging that she was unable to adequately care for her child and that this, rather than her polyamory, had been the grandparents' real motivation in seeking custody.
Related groups and concepts
The definitions of polygamy and polyamory allow a great deal of overlap: any loving polygamous relationship could also be considered polyamorous, and many polyamorists consider themselves to be married to more than one person. In practice, however, usage separates the words: "polygamy" is more often used to refer to codified forms of multiple marriage (especially those with a traditional/religious basis), while "polyamory" implies a relationship defined by negotiation between its members rather than cultural norms.
Thus, although polygamy and polyamory are often treated by outsiders as similar concepts, the two groups are based on very different philosophies and ideals, and little interaction occurs between self-described "polygamists" and "polyamorists". Instead, polyamory is more closely associated with those subcultures and ideologies that favour individual freedoms in sexual matters - most notably, gay and BDSM advocacy.
The polyamorous values of respect, honesty, communication and negotiation are akin to those espoused by the BDSM subculture. (Indeed, several prominent polyamory advocates are also BDSM advocates.) Many of the problems encountered in polyamorous relationships have close parallels in BDSM, and can be resolved by similar methods; both groups benefit from a cross pollination of ideas.
However, individual attitudes vary widely; within each of these groups, some members find the other groups objectionable.
As with many lifestyles, there is considerable active discussion about philosophical approaches to polyamory.
One way of studying the presumptions behind relationships is in the escalation of values known as Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. In this schema, which examines the assumptions and presuppositions of relationships, the presumption that monogamy is the only acceptable form of long term relationships is an example of stage four of this schema. Polyamory is a common structure of relationships in stage five or six.
Another is by looking at Ken Wilber's stages of personal and spiritual development, Abraham Maslow's self-needs, and Jane Loevinger's "self-sense", which are similar schamatas and which are based upon the findings of many researchers in human development:
- Each recognizes that there is a classic stage in personal development, which is conventional and based upon approval and laws (Kohlberg), conformist or conscientious-conformist (Loevinger), based upon belongingness and safety (Maslow), and whose structure is based upon "rules and roles" (Wilber).
- Each also recognizes a more developed post-conventional stage, based upon individual principles of conscience (Kohlberg), conscientious-individualistic or autonomous (Loevinger), based upon self-esteem and self-actualization (Maslow) and whose structure is formal-reflexive (Wilber), allowing the possibility to think about, judge, and critique ones own previous ways of thinking and those of one's society.
Because of the heightened trust and self-determination required for a polyamorous relationship, some who practice polyamory consider it a superior form of relating to people. One response common amongst monogamists or others not familiar with polyamorous people and families, is that polyamory can sometimes appear as a weakening or failure to adhere to the values that most of the rest of society agrees to. Realistically, most who practice it do not philosophize, instead they simply suggest that it is the right way for them.
Criticisms of polyamory
Many religions forbid or at least discourage sex outside marriage (or, in some cases, a committed relationship closely resembling marriage). As a consequence, such religions effectively prohibit or permit polyamory to the same degree that they prohibit or permit polygamy. Even where polygamy is permitted, it is typically limited to one rigidly-defined form of plural marriage—most commonly polygyny—and other forms of polyamorous relationships remain prohibited.
Until the Middle Ages[How to reference and link to summary or text], the three major Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) permitted overt polygamy in the form of polygyny; King Solomon, an important figure to all three of them, epitomizes the widespread recognition (if not endorsement) of polygyny throughout the ancient world. As of the 20th-21st centuries, polygyny remained common in many parts of the Islamic world but had largely been abandoned by Christianity and Judaism; for further discussion and some exceptions see Polygamy and religion.
Religious leaders have said little on polyamory directly, but this is probably due to its low public profile compared to other relational/ethical issues such as homosexuality, and because polyamory is neither widely known nor widely identified as a distinct lifestyle.
Division of love
One common criticism of polyamory is rooted in the belief that by dividing one's love among multiple partners, that love is lessened. This is a Malthusian (or "starvation economy") argument, so called because it treats love as a commodity (like food or other resources) that can only be given to one person by taking it away from another.
Polyamorists reject this view of love, arguing that it need not be lessened by division. Many agree with Robert Heinlein's statement: "Love does not subtract, it MULTIPLIES. The more you love, the more you CAN love." A commonly-invoked argument is that a parent who has two children does not love either of them any less because of the existence of the other.
Those who value monogamy often point to the strength and trust that can be built up within a long standing relationship, claiming this can only happen between a couple who only are focused on each other and have no other partners. Polyamorists reject this view, claiming that strength and trust can be built up with all of their partners. They may point out that involving other partners weakens this trust no more so than involving other friends in their life, as monogamous couples often do.
An intermediate viewpoint is that maintaining a loving relationship requires time and energy, and neither of these are infinite resources; hence, while it may be possible to love several people just as well as one, there is a point beyond which relationships do begin to suffer.
Perceived failure rates
Polyamorous relationships are often criticised as "not lasting". It is hard to come by accurate numbers on the longevity of polyamorous relationships versus monogamous ones, so this is difficult to measure, for a variety of reasons, not least that individual monogamous and polyamorous relationships may vary both in their intentions and their definitions of "success". Other factors making this a question without an answer include:
- Polyamorists (like many people in non-traditional relationships) often do not publicize their relational status, and certain kinds of polyamorists and polyamorous relationships may be under- or over-reported.
- In both polyamorous and monogamous relationships (where the participants are unmarried), the criteria for a "successful relationship" may not necessarily coincide with the usual expected "goal" of a lifelong commitment, and many relationships change or end as those within them feel right. For example, a relationship that enriches the lives of its participants may well be considered a "success" even if it ends (see Richard Bach's description of his divorce for an example of this).
- Not all connections within a polyamorous relationship, and not all monogamous relationships, are expected or intended to last for life. Many of each are not - part time, long distance, stages and seasons, are some of these reasons.
- Not all relationships with multiple partners are in fact "polyamorous" within the definition of the term, and many relationships with multiple partners are not built on the basis of trust, maturity, and common intent that polyamorists consider essential to support negotiated relationships successfully.
Because sex and sexuality raise so many deep feelings in people, it is difficult for many people to be non-biased in their casual assessment of the "success" of polyamorous relationships, with polyamorists and those opposed to polyamory each making assessments based on 'selective choice of evidence' (that supports their view). For example, those who are not inclined towards such relationships may judge the type of relationship based on the failure of a particular instance of it, even if they do not judge the entire institution of marriage a failure simply because a particular couple got a divorce.
Although a casual observer might see many polyamorous relationships ending, supporters of polyamory note that if a similar standard were applied to monogamous relationships, relatively few would be considered truly successful either, citing the divorce rate, the number of marriages which hold together in name only, the number of unmarried couples who split up, and the number where partners are unhappy or cheat—but that few use these things as evidence that monogamy is immoral, impractical or doomed to fail.
With a lack of disciplined academic study in this area, it is probably fair to say that the question is currently open. There is simply not enough consistent and high quality research at present comparing monogamous relationships with polyamorous ones, either in terms of longevity (as a measure for those relationships which do make a "life-long" commitment), in terms of satisfaction with the results, or in terms of meeting the expectations of those participating.
Inability/unwillingness to commit
Polyamory is sometimes seen as an inability, or unwillingness, to make a lasting commitment to one partner — especially a commitment to sexual exclusivity to one person for one's entire lifetime, as in traditional monogamous marriage.
On the other hand, polyamorists commonly see themselves as making more commitments, much as a parent is committed to loving all their offspring. One expression used by polyamorists is "We are faithful to ALL our lovers".
Polyamorists' attitudes to monogamy vary widely. Some polyamorists consider polyamory a superior way of life to monogamy, sometimes describing polyamory as being "more evolved". They may characterise monogamous relationships as being based on unthinking acceptance of societal or religious standards, or on possessiveness and jealousy. Some polyamorists believe that people who only have a single lover have less capacity for love than those who have more—a reversal of the 'division of love' criticism discussed above.
However, others view polyamory and monogamy as equally valid ways of life, with the best choice depending on the individual. While recognising that many monogamous relationships may be based on conformity or possessiveness, they do not see this as an intrinsic characteristic of monogamy any more than they see an inability to commit as an intrinsic characteristic of polyamory.
Famous polyamorous people
Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between romantic historical relationships and sexual relationships between friends, this list is based on a broad usage of 'polyamory' that includes the latter. For more specific information, see individual pages and the included external references.
- Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Olga Kosakiewicz
- CT Butler, a founder of Food Not Bombs
- Amelia Earhart
- Robert A. Heinlein
- William Marston, Elizabeth Marston, and Olive Byrne
- E. Nesbit
- Eric S. Raymond 
- Vita Sackville-West, Harold Nicolson, and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group 
- Percy Shelley
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Dieter Wedel, movie director
- Alfred Kinsey
Many historical figures had multiple simultaneous relationships that nevertheless would not be considered "polyamorous" by modern usage because they lacked 'full knowledge and consent'. In Victorian England, for instance, the difficulty and stigma of divorce often left a rich man's wife with little option but to tolerate his mistresses, who in turn might be dependent on him for financial support. Such relationships are not included in this list.
- ↑ See Ken Wilber's book A Brief History of Everything, table 9-3 p.146, and discussion of "fulcrum 5" p. 186 for sources and citations. On page 145, "This model of consciousness development is based on the work of perhaps 60 or 70 theorists, East and West." He goes on to say, "All developmentalists, with virtually no exceptions, have a stage-like or even a ladder-list list... of growth and development - Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Heinz Werner, Jean Piaget, R. Peck, Habermas, Robert Selman, Erik Erikson, J. M. Baldwin, Silvano Arieti, even the contemplative traditions from Plotinus to Padmasambhava to Chih-i and Fa-tsang. And they have this ladder-like holarchy because that is what fits their data. These stages are the result of empirical, phenomenological, and interpretive evidence and massive amounts of research data. These folks are not making this stuff up because they like ladders." (p.147-8)
- Safer sex
- The Ethical Slut (book)
- Free love
- Open marriage
- Serial monogamy
- polyamory.org, the official homepage of the alt.polyamory newsgroup
- Polyamory page at Sexuality.org
- Monogamy's Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence Analyzes social and legal perspectives on polyamory.
- The Challenge Of Post-Modern Polygamy: Considering Polyamory Analyzes monogamy, polygamy, polyfidelity and polyparenting and considers how polyfidelitous marriage might fit into Western culture within a Hegelian framework.
- Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness
- Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality: Polyamory
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Polyamory Sound Bites Includes some data on frequency of nonmonogamy and psychiatric health of the polyamorous.
- PolyFamilies: Polyamory for the Practical A site about creating a polyamorous household and raising children in one.
- What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory A guide for mental health professionals which is favorable to polyamory.
- Polyamory Weekly Podcast A podcast regarding polyamory and related issues.
- newgroup control message creating alt.polyamory, May 29, 1992, as archived at ftp.uu.net (primary source for the Usenet control message archive)da:Polyamory